If you are diabetic, prediabetic, or just concerned about good health, listen up. Yoga may help balance blood sugar levels. While it’s not a substitute for medical attention, yoga has benefits that may affect your blood sugar in very specific ways.
The first step in understanding how yoga may help balance blood sugar levels is to understand the reasons blood sugar may spike in the first place.
Here are some things that can cause blood sugar to rise:
Problems making or responding to insulin. Insulin is the hormone responsible for moving sugar out of the blood. If your body does not make or use insulin efficiently, you will have higher-than-normal blood sugar levels.
Stress. Stress raises cortisol, a hormone related to blood sugar control. A rise in cortisol causes the “fight or flight” response. This causes your body to produce glucose (sugar) so your body is ready to “fight.”
Eating the “wrong” foods. If you eat a lot of refined carbohydrates or sugar, your blood sugar will spike.
Excess weight. Extra body fat can prevent the body from absorbing insulin. When this happens, sugar remains in the blood.
So, how can yoga help keep blood sugar levels in check, you wonder? Primarily by reducing stress, burning calories, and toning your body. In addition, a regular yoga practice may make you more attentive to your overall health.
Specifically, yoga may help balance blood sugar can help in these ways:
Yoga lowers the physical effects of stress. People practice yoga to reduce stress for a good reason. Because the practice relaxes the body, improves breathing, and calms the mind, yogis feel fewer physical effects of stress. That means overall, yogis have lower cortisol levels and lower blood sugar levels.
Yoga burns calories. If you practice more active styles like vinyasa or power yoga, you’ll burn a lot of calories, which means you’ll shed any excess weight that may cause insulin resistance.
Yoga makes you strong. In yoga, you use your own body for resistance; it can be as effective as strength training with free weights in building muscle mass. As you get more toned, you’ll burn more calories, because muscle burns fat more effectively than fat does. With a more toned yoga body, it will be easier to keep weight off and, by extension, keep blood sugar from rising.
Yogis tend to care about overall health. The principles of yoga include precepts for self care. For example, yogis refrain from excess (eating, drinking, etc.) by practicing bramacharya. A healthy diet along with regular exercise can help keep blood sugar stable. We practice ahimsa—non-harming or kindness—and that includes not harming ourselves. We also practice tapas, or self-discipline, which can help us stick to a healthy diet and regular exercise.
Mindfulness is associated with better health. A study in the American Journal of Health behavior points out that people who are mindful tend to be healthier. Paying attention to your body will help you know what to do to care for it, and that includes keeping blood sugar stable.
As an overall lifestyle practice, yoga will help you stay in shape physically, mentally, and spiritually. Remember, it’s a lifestyle practice!